Monday, November 14, 2016

Game of Thrones Rewatch 3.4: "And Now His Watch is Ended"

Read the previous entry in this series here.
Read the next entry in this series here.

3.4 “And Now His Watch is Ended”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Alex Graves
Commentary by Diana Rigg (Olenna Tyrell), Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), and Alex Graves

This episode deals a lot with consequences, some of them bigger than others. Two big revolutions occur, and lots of smaller things happen in response to storylines that have been building for a while.

The first big revolution is the Night’s Watch rebellion. This one has been building since last season; earlier, if you consider all the groundwork laid about how dishonorable and awful the men of the Night’s Watch tend to be. The events of this season have just given them a reason. Mormont hauled them all this way north, they probably don’t understand why he did it, and now a good chunk of them are dead and the rest of them are dying. And Craster’s sitting here refusing to help and laughing at them for their plight. These are not the kind of men—like Mormont—who can take this sort of thing lying down.

Mormont’s problem is that he overestimated the honorability and obedience of the men under his command. Bringing them all up here was a mistake anyway; sure, he wanted to try to stop Mance before he ever reached the Wall, but he knew about the wights and Walkers and knew they were real and a threat, but brought all this cannon fodder up here regardless. Craster is the only somewhat-ally they have north of the Wall, and he’s a poor one. They’ve been sitting at Craster’s Keep for days, if not weeks, and at least one of their number has died. Everyone’s cold and hungry and angry, and they don’t feel that Mormont has their best interests at heart. A lot of these are men who are here because they took what they wanted rather than getting it through legitimate means—thieves and rapists—and the vows of the Night’s Watch essentially just put a leash on them. But the leash can only hold so far.

Craster demands respect in his own home, but hasn’t in any way earned it, so Karl (we knew Burn Gorman was going to step up at some point) calls him a “daughter-fucking wildling bastard,” daring him to actually make good on all the threats he’s been making. And when Craster tries—lunging at him with his axe—Karl puts his dagger through Craster’s throat. This kicks off a riot, essentially, and when Mormont tries to pull everything back under control, reminding them that there are laws and customs about being guests in other people’s homes, Rast stabs him in the back. Despite his injury, Mormont nearly manages to strangle Rast to death before the wound gets the better of him and he collapses.

Not only does this create a massive rift in the Night’s Watch and lose them yet more men, it foreshadows what Jon will have ahead of him when he becomes Lord Commander. These are not disciplined, trained men who will follow the orders of their commander no matter what; these are loose cannons who have to be bullied and manipulated into doing even things that are in their own best interest. Though it’s on a small and petty scale, they’re playing their own game of thrones at the Wall, and you win or you die.

Mormont fought valiantly. Mormont fought nobly. Mormont fought honorably. And Mormont died.

Sam, Gilly, and the unnamed baby escape the carnage and head south toward the Wall. I don’t quite understand why they chose to have Gilly go ahead and have her baby; maybe they thought knowing it was a boy would give Sam and Gilly more impetus to leave? Or explain why they get attacked by a Walker later? Or it would be easier on the actress to carry a doll than wear a pregnant belly while doing all the walking they have to do? Either way, this completely ruins the baby-swap plot point that would have been coming later.

The other major revolution is Dany’s rise to becoming an actual power rather than a “beggar queen.” She pretends to make the deal with the Astapor slave masters, handing Drogon over to them on a leash, then, once the deal is done, turns the Unsullied on the masters and gives Drogon the order to start burning everything. She offers the Unsullied their freedom, but none of them take her up on it, instead pounding their spears on the ground to show that they’re loyal to her now. Dany leads the remains of the khalasar and her new army out of Astapor and symbolically throws the whip on the ground.

The issues with Dany and slavery are very subtle in the books and I’m not sure how much of it actually comes through in the show (I’m guessing not a lot, since subtlety isn’t exactly this show’s strong suit). Dany believes she’s doing her due diligence by offering the Unsullied their freedom just as she did the slaves taken by the khalasar at the end of season one. What she fails to understand is that the Unsullied weren’t just yanked out of their villages yesterday. They’ve been brainwashed, conditioned to serve, and probably can’t even conceive of the idea of freedom. Their choice to stay in her service is less of a victory than it appears, because it’s less of a choice. Dany is going to continue to use the Unsullied the way they were created to be used, although she will give them a voice on her council. Similarly, Missandei was given to her as a slave, and though she ostensibly frees her, Missandei stays with her and continues to act as her interpreter and scribe. In the books, there’s never any mention of payment or anything beyond care, feeding, and protection—which is not much different than how a really nice master would treat his/her slaves. It seems pretty clear that Martin was making a point about the “white savior” trope and how Dany’s “help” is pretty self-centered, but I’m not sure the showrunners picked up on it.

A similar revenge motif is evident in Varys and Tyrion’s conversation back in the Red Keep. Tyrion wants to know how Varys can be sure that it was Cersei who ordered the hit on him during the battle; Varys says he doesn’t have hard proof. He understands Tyrion’s need for revenge, but advises taking it slowly and carefully. He uses his own life as an example—he was a boy actor, sold to a sorcerer who used his man-bits as fuel for a conjuring spell of some kind, then worked his way up from the gutter to the spymaster of Westeros. The whole time, he’s slowly prying the lid off of a crate, and when it finally comes off, it turns out the sorcerer himself is in that crate. Dun dun duuuuuuuuun.

Something about this scene bothers me, and I can’t quite put a finger on why. It feels out of place and odd. Sure, it gives us some background about Varys and how hard he’s worked to get here. It allows him to show Tyrion what he means about waiting and consolidating your power so you can get revenge. It gives Varys a bit more motivation for backing the Lannisters against Stannis—he distrusts magic and can’t support Stannis when he’s supported by Melisandre. And yet the whole thing with the sorcerer in the crate feels a bit extraneous and over the top. Maybe it’s because Varys so rarely takes a hands-on approach to anything; he’s more likely (in my mind) to have caused the sorcerer to be ruined or ruin himself rather than have him crated up and shipped to Westeros so he can—what, torture him? I don’t remember if we see what Varys does with the sorcerer after this.

Brienne also tells Jaime revenge is important. He’s miserable, sick, probably dying, and letting himself go. She calls him names to try to get him angry enough to want to live and tells him he has to survive if he wants to take revenge. She also asks why he made up the story about sapphires just to save her from rape, and he doesn’t have an answer for her. He might not have an answer for himself.

Theon, on the other hand, is tired of revenge, especially since he realizes he was taking revenge for nothing. He and Ramsay make their way (ostensibly) to Deepwood Motte, where Ramsay has promised Yara is waiting for him. On the way, Theon tells Ramsay all about all the stuff he’s pent up over the last couple of seasons, admitting that he didn’t kill Bran and Rickon, admitting that he always wanted to be a Stark, admitting that this whole thing was because he was told he couldn’t be a Stark, but he knew he was a bad Greyjoy. Only the bit at the end about Ned being his real father doesn’t quite ring true, probably because we hardly ever see Theon and Ned together. Comments about Robb being his brother make sense; without more evidence of Theon and Ned’s relationship, that claim just doesn’t quite float for me. Alfie Allen, of course, kills the whole scene again because he’s amazing as Theon; the not-quite-buying-it isn’t his fault at all.

And then he finds out that all of this has been for nothing, as Ramsay has led him right back into the dungeons of the Dreadfort and he’s tied back up on the cross.

Other scenes are set-up for later consequences. Varys meets with Ros and learns that Petyr plans to sneak Sansa out of King’s Landing. They also have a much-too-long conversation about Pod’s presumed sexual prowess (ugh) and completely harpoon my fanwank from last week about Petyr paying back his debt this way—apparently he didn’t notice the loss of money. Petyr. Master of Coin. Clawed his way up from barely nobility to one of the most powerful men in the realm by working with money. Didn’t notice. That three of his prostitutes are short on their pay.

Right. Sure. Okay.

That whole scene was one thing when they did it in the last episode. Comic relief, fine, whatever. Bringing it back up in this episode is just . . . excessive.

But the scene as a whole establishes that Ros is working for Varys, that she’s smart, that she can read, and that she’s oddly protective of Sansa. This will have horrendous consequences later.

Meanwhile, Joffrey’s showing Margaery all the graves in the Great Sept of Baelor, and he’s really excited about it. Cersei and Olenna are there, too, discussing the seating capacity of the Sept for the wedding. Cersei gets a firsthand look at Margaery’s ability to manipulate Joffrey and how she’s establishing herself as his equal and helper, and she hates every single second of it. She also gets to show a bit of her own political savvy by being extra pious when Olenna questions why men get to run everything. Too bad that political savvy doesn’t continue. We also get a (kind of) subtle bit of foreshadowing from Olenna about Joffrey’s death, which she, of course, is planning right now.

Later Olenna meets with Varys to discuss the possibility of “rescuing” Sansa by marrying her off to Loras before Petyr can abscond with her. Margaery gets to pitch that idea to Sansa, who is clearly delighted. This is another shift from the books, evidence of them condensing the plot and characters a bit; instead of betrothing Sansa to Wyllas, who I think maybe shows up in the books once (if that), they don’t add Loras to the Kingsguard and promise Sansa to him instead. Adding Loras to the Kingsguard added to Cersei’s internal evidence that the Tyrells were taking too much power, but it’s not entirely necessary to make the overall plot work. Unfortunately, it also gives the writers nothing to do with Loras, which comes back to bite them later.

Finally, Sandor is facing the consequences not only for his actions, but his brother’s and all the rest of the Lannisters’ at the hands of the Brotherhood without Banners. All of them are angry, and all of them want revenge for their dead. As is typical for Sandor, he admits to being a killer but refuses to take responsibility for lives he didn’t take with his own hands. Unfortunately for him, Arya is there to lay one he did take with his own hands at his feet—Mycah, the butcher’s boy. Beric Dondarrion (who looks a lot worse than the last time we saw him) sentences him to trial by combat, fighting Beric himself.

RIP: Bannen
Lord Jeor Mormont, Commander of the Night’s Watch
Kraznys mo Nakoloz
Greizhen mo Ullhor
Various other slavers

Next Week: Jon and Ygritte finally seal the deal.  Dany heads to Yunkai. Robb screws up again. Jaime takes a bath.

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